Well, it was now May 1998. Kim was about to graduate from college and head back home. The problem was I knew Kim didn't have access to email at home. This was a problem. If something didn't change I was headed towards putting Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" on repeat in my CD player. I decided to take matters into my own hands and make a visit up to campus . I had two younger sisters (Lydia and Esther) going to school there and so it was the perfect "cover" for a visit. Coincidentally, they were both rooming with Kim that year and they knew we'd make the perfect couple. And so with a little prodding (and a modest financial incentive) they agreed to trick...I mean convince Kim to head out to a local state park and hang out with us (along with Lydia's boyfriend Ken) for the day. It was a good time. We had a barbecue, flew kites and explored some of the wooded trails. Later that night, after dropping off my youngest sister, the four of us went to a place called Orchard Downs and sang songs, shared and prayed together. It was a beautiful night and I remember shooting stars lit up the sky everywhere. It was the first time we had "hung out" in nearly a year and it seemed so right. Things finally seemed like they might be moving in the right direction.
When I got back home I was eager to get the photos from my camera developed. (for those of you under the age of 30 - a little history lesson: before the invention of digital cameras, we old folks used to have to carry around these large black boxes and crank a handle to capture images and send them to a lab for processing. Therefore turning around pictures could take days especially if you weren't lucky enough to live near a Pony Express.) Anyways, below is a nice pic that Ken (Lydia's eventual husband) took of the rest of us at the park.
Now here is a picture that Kim took of me and my sisters when we were hiking one of the wooded trails.
Despite the disturbing picture, I mustered up enough courage to call her on the phone and we began talking again shortly after that campus visit. And then not a month later it happened. The moment I was waiting for. Her church (Calvary) was having a summer retreat in July and she asked me to come up for it. She made it clear that she still saw us as "just friends" but how could I not see this as a big step in the right direction? I mean she obviously wanted to parade me around as her personal "trophy" - like a hunk of meat on display - and honestly, I was okay with that.
So the retreat was held over the 4th of July weekend and let me just say it was a long weekend. The entire three days I could sense Kim was distancing herself from me and we rarely even talked. I could count on one hand the number of times we had a conversation. On top of this, no one else really made any effort to get to know me. In fact, I began to sense that all of the guys at the retreat (who were well aware that Kim had invited me) looked at me with great suspicion, they gave me the could shoulder and treated me like a pariah. Later, I would find out that most of the guys there were after Kim themselves and so they saw me as a threat to their "pursuit of happiness".
I remember making the long five hour drive from Chicago back to St. Louis more confused than ever before asking myself the same questions over and over again.
"Why would she invite me to a retreat and then ignore me?"I'm sure many of you have asked yourselves those exact same questions when you pursued the love of your life. Thankfully, despite all the mixed messages and conflicting signs, I decided to press on in faith. That said, there is a fine line between faith and stupidity and Lord knows I have crossed that line many a times. If there is one movie scene that could sum up the faith (or stupidity) I had on that long drive home it would be this one:
"What am I supposed to do next with this relationship?"
"Why does the Incredible Hulk turn green when he gets angry?"
Things were still not looking good but I was willing to place all my faith in a God of miracles and that one chance in a million. And at that moment in time, that was good enough for me...